The Mission of the Church by Gerald Cowan

     Until we know what our mission is we cannot determine how or when or whether to do it.  We must avoid the tendency either to oversimplify or over-complicate the mission.

     The most common definition of our mission is threefold: evangelism, edification, and benevolence.  Many who use that definition cannot explain or apply it adequately.  At the risk of making it sound more complex and complicated than it really is, we are presenting here The Tenfold Mission of the Church.  Hopefully it will be a meaningful application of a familiar doctrine.

The SPIRITUAL Mission of the Church

     Spiritual means “of or pertaining to the spirit” – in particular, the Spirit of God.  We can understand spiritual as meaning from, as taught by, or as directed by the Holy Spirit.  Paul uses the word that way in 1 Corinthians 2:9-16.  We may also speak of our Spirit-given mission as directed to the non-physical spirit of man, the eternal aspect of man’s being, the part of man that can and will exist independently apart from the living body (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

      Since only the spirit is eternal, that is the part we must try to save.  All aspects of man’s being have some impact on the spirit or provide a way to reach the spirit.  All genuine needs are to be addressed, even if they cannot be met fully, but we must put the spirit first, above everything else.

      What we usually call “evangelism” is an effort to save the spirit/soul of a person.  Preaching the gospel is an effort to get the hearer to respond actively and appropriately so that he will be “saved” from sin and guilt (Mark 16:15-16, Acts 2:38).  Every New Testament writer makes reference to this somehow. For example, see 1 Peter 2:22-25, 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.

      Our task is not to convince all people to be religious and to join the church or religion of their choice, but to preach the God of the Bible as the only true God and Jesus Christ as the only way to reach God and secure acceptance and approval – salvation – from Him.  Our message must be that Spirit-given message of God and His Christ found only in the Bible.  Failure to deliver this message will only add to the spiritual chaos that exists in the world.  We will be part of the cause and little or no part of the cure.

The NON-SPIRITUAL Mission of the Church

PHYSICAL.  This is part of what is usually but inappropriately called benevolence.  The word means literally good will.  It should show in everything we do.  Giving food, clothing, shelter and other needful things is important (Matthew 25:31-46, James 2:15-16).  So are visiting and ministering to the sick, persecuted, imprisoned and otherwise afflicted.  All these things should be done according to one’s ability and opportunity.  But do not assume these things are more important or will compensate for failure to teach the gospel.

MENTAL/EMOTIONALThis is part of what might be called counseling.  Talk is cheap.  Good advice and valid counsel are difficult to find.  Even good counsel coming from one who does not apply it to himself is likely to be counter-productive.  Notice Job’s response to the poor counsel he received (Job 16:1-4).   However, scripture makes it clear that we should be counselors and comforters, that we should share in the emotional situations of others. “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  When we have come through some trouble or trial with the help of God, we are able to comfort and console, encourage and strengthen others suffering from similar situations (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

SOCIALteaching people how to get along with each other, both in the church and in the world.   Racial and ethnic considerations are currently of great social importance and impact.  Exploitation and slavery have taken away human rights which civilization is slow to restore.   Economic, educational, and  other “status” considerations are a constant problem.

     The rich sometimes despise the poor and feel no obligation or desire to help them.  The educated sometimes despise the uneducated and ignorant and feel no obligation to teach them.  The poor may despise the rich too, and try to take away their riches.

     Moral and humane considerations are critical.  The helpless, weak, sick, old and unborn – especially the unborn – are victimized by the strong and the ruthless.  Inhumane treatment of others and demand for special privileges and impunity for one’s misdeeds are common hallmarks of society.

The Mission of the Church TO THE CHURCH

      The church has a mission and obligation to its own members and their families. This is usually called edification.  It includes everything we have already said about the spiritual and non-spiritual mission to the world.  Christians have the same needs as all others in that regard. But in this matter of edification or “building up” of Christians there are several important points of focus, as well as content.

      We are to build them up in the faith.  Jude 20-21, Ephesians  4:15-16, 2 Corinthians 13:5, and other references, teach that the faith is of prime importance. There must be a continuing intensive and in-depth study of scripture. (2 Timothy 2:2, 1 Corinthians 2:14-3:2). Shallow preaching and teaching will inevitably result in shallow and superficial faith, producing shallow and superficial Christians.

     Edifying teaching and preaching should be directed to parents who can then “bring their children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).  The church is to teach parents about the meaning of parenting and supply them with information and proper tools and support for the intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual aspects of their task.

      Edification – building up faith and faithfulness – should be directed to children too. Children need to be taught how to relate to parents, to the church, to other children, and to God (Ephesians 6:1-4).  The church reinforces proper parental teaching and nurture, and tries to correct or alleviate in children the effects of improper parental nurture, neglect, and abuse.

The Mission of the Church TO THE RELIGIOUSLY WRONG

     Evangelism – We have an obligation to prove that undivided and undenominational Christianity is possible and desirable, actually essential – demanded by God with no indication that anything less is acceptable to Him (1 Corinthians 1:10-13).  How will they ever know they are wrong unless they are taught what is right.

     One cannot be taught wrong and expected to do right.  It is unlikely that many religiously wrong and therefore unsaved persons will attend our assemblies and listen to us teach about the invalidity of their religion.  We need to go to them, seek them out, and deliver the message of God.

     We may have lost sight of the fact that we can improve the physical, mental and emotional, and social aspects of all mankind, and should try to do so even for those who do not obey the gospel for salvation (Matthew 7:12).

The Mission of the Church TO THE WHOLE WORLD

     You can find both Christians and non-Christians everywhere. The most obvious and perhaps easiest part of our mission is in our own family, and then to our community – the people near to us; but you can also find people in the broader community too, extending to and including all people in our nation. 

     God says,  “Blessed is that nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12).  Consider also that, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).  We have a long and difficult way to go as a nation before we can say the Lord is our God, that we are clean in His sight, or that we have a right to pray, “God bless America; God bless our nation.

     Our mission extends to the whole world – to that part of it which we are able to reach and influence at any given time.  There is no limit to the extent of our mission, no boundaries placed by God upon our efforts. “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature…Make disciples in every nation...teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you” (Mark 16:15-16, Matthew 28:18-20).  As one of our hymns says, we should “Ring out (the word) … until the sinful world is won for Jehovah’s mighty Son.”

The Duration of the Mission of the Church

     It is a lifetime work, a never-ending mission.  Every Christian should make a lifetime commitment to the mission of the church, just as we have a lifetime commitment to the church itself. This is because we are expected to have a lifetime commitment to God and to His Christ, and to the faith (Revelation 2:10).

     As the people of God we are pledged to serve Him in the way He directs. We can subdivide our lifetime mission into two parts.

      We can make SHORT TERM efforts, now and then, here and there. Gospel Meetings are short term mission efforts in which someone is brought in to preach on special topics which will evangelize the community and edify the church.   Campaigns are short term group efforts, to unchurched or unevangelized areas, or to churches needing help in their own evangelistic works.           

     More difficult and demanding are LONG TERM mission efforts, going to a mission area with the intention of staying a long time, perhaps for a lifetime.  The needs and works of long term missionaries bring opportunities for many others to participate in short term missions.

     We rightly honor and applaud both short term and long term missionaries for their self-sacrificing commitment to others, as part of their personal commitment to Christ.  It is a privilege to support such persons and their works with money, time, energy, and prayer.

     Hopefully our projected spotlight on missions in future issues of the Gospel Gleaner will give a proper review of many mission efforts, both long term and short term, and will encourage us to give to these  missionaries something of our own fellowship and support.

      If you have been keeping score, you may have noticed that we have only listed nine parts of the tenfold mission. The last one is individual, not collective.

The Mission and Responsibility TO AND FOR ONE’S OWN SELF

     Each one is commanded to “save yourself” (Acts 2:40, Philippians 2:12-13).  “Make your own calling and election sure” (2 Peter 1:10).  “Be faithful unto death” (Revelation 2:10).

     When you have done that you too can expect the crown of life from the Lord, the righteous judge (2 Timothy 4:7-8).